I'm one of those people who likes Beta software. I like being one of the first kids on the block to test drive new software. There is the thrill of discovery and the excitement of "the new". In that spirit, I recently downloaded and installed the Beta release (now releases) of the new Skype 4. It is radically different from the current version. It has taken me some time to really get into this release. I'm glad I stuck with it because truly is a step forward. However, the changes are pretty radical and take some getting used to.
Skype made some serious mistakes in the initial Beta release. I thought that I must have gone senile when I first used it. I couldn't find how to access groups anywhere. They were clearly there - other plugins could still "see" groups - but I had no way to access them. That's because there was no way to access them. Skype had taken them out but, gladly, they are back.
The new view is much bigger, more like a web page. This is cumbersome to say the least. Usually, one only wants a simple contacts list visible. More information about contacts and during calls is great and Skype 4 has it. Most of the time, it simply takes up too much desktop real estate. Thankfully, Skype now includes a compact view that shrinks the contact list down to it's old dimensions while allowing the new stuff to be displayed when you click on a contact. Nice save!
The half dozen tabs are now gone and good riddance to old rubbish. That was pretty cumbersome and made it hard to look at a call screen while still looking at the contact list. You had to click all over the place. And try looking at multiple contacts at the same time. Now the contact information pops up to the right or pops up a window in compact mode. I especially like that last option. I can have multiple contact windows open at the same time, making it easy to have multiple IM message streams going simultaneously.
At it's core, Skype is about calling. The IM, SMS, and video are nice but the ability to make inexpensive phone calls is the primary reason to use Skype. SkypeOut is still the least expensive way to call long distance (not including Skype to Skype), especially overseas. That has not been lost in this new release. In fact, My SkypeOut account is easily accessible from the new interface, something that was a bit more cumbersome in earlier versions.
The only thing I am not yet sure of is compatibility with older plugins and hardware. My Pidgin plugin is working fine. At home I have a doo hickey that allows me to use my regular telephone with Skype. I am hesitant to upgrade my home computer to Skype 4 for fear of rendering tha very useful device unusual. Curiously, the speed dial feature that my Skype phone relys on no longer seems to be available. In the end, all UI changes aside, if Skype 4 doesn't have decent backward compatibility with hardware and software plugins, it will be a failure.
All in all, I like the direction. This latest release goes a long way toward making this a worthy successor to Skype 3. I await the next release with great anticipation.